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12 Day Horse Riding Adventure along the Last Wild River of Europe, Vjosa River

Asim Zeneli, Njesia Antigone, Albania

Top Albanian Horse Riding

This trail combines a challenging riding experience in different landscapes with many possibilities of swimming in rivers, river hiking, canyon exploring, camping, sharing time and accommodation with local people, visiting rare cultural monuments, meeting monuments of Albania’s communist dictatorship past. Local traditional food, famous Permeti Raki, and wine tasting, livestock rituals and city nightlife will make this trail very diverse in experiences. Meeting River Vjosa, the last wild river in Europe riding along with it and camping in the river bed, is the most beautiful experience of this trail.

Key Information

  • Rider Weight Limit: 176 pounds / 80 kilograms
  • Horse Breed: Local breed mix of Tarpan and Arab Horses

Highlights

  • 9 days of riding
  • Ride on reliable and strong horses
  • Approximate daily riding time: 3.5 - 6 hours
  • Explore medieval villages, towers, churches, and caravan pathways
  • Ride through the forest, mountains, valleys, cliffs, and water streams
  • Experience sheep milking process and traditional cookings
  • 11 nights accommodation in tents or local family's houses
  • Daily meals and drinks will be provided

Styles


9 days with instruction in English
The organizer also speaks: Greek, Italian
Group size: Maximum of 10 participants
Airport transfer available:
Tirana International Airport Nënë Tereza (US$81 per person)
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Accommodation

Check-in Time:
15:00
Check-out Time:
10:00

You will be accommodated in local or family guesthouses as well as camping every night. It may be possible to pay for a single supplement on night 1 and night 7 of the trail, but riders must be prepared to share accommodation with the same gender on the other nights.

Program

Day 1: Arrival and orientation

Plan your flight to arrive at Tirana International Airport Nënë Tereza (TIA) ideally in the morning, but no later than 3:00 p.m.; this leaves time for the transfer and to be able to visit the town of Gjirokstra. From the airport, the transfer will be by mini-van or off-road car and will take around 3-4 hours (250 kilometers).

Settle into your hotel, 10 minutes walking from the center of historical Gjirokastra. You can have a walk around the historical town of the old Bazaar before dinner. Riders can also visit Enver Hoxha’s house, Gjirokastra castle, the church of the Old Bazaar, the mosque of the Bazar and the Skenduli house representing an ideal sample of Gjirokastra traditional life.

Dinner will be served at a traditional restaurant. During dinner, your guides will be able to speak to you about the trail: possible requests or needs, advice and things which are good to know. It is recommended that you buy a map of the area before dinner in order to gain a good understanding of the itinerary.

Day 2: Gjirokastra - Karjan medieval village

After breakfast at the hotel and allocation of horses, you will start to ride through the countryside towards the medieval village of Karjan. This village is traditional, a rural stop of the passing caravans with its small churches and old roman bridge. The road to reach this destination passes through a rural environment; small houses, gardens, traditional farming and cultivation of the land. The route combines hilly landscapes, valleys, small water streams, and cliffs.

This path also passes along the view of River Drino, the “Tree of Life” river. It is the most important water basin in the area and part of ancient pagan beliefs. On your way, you will meet the ruins of the castle of Santa Triada reconstructed during 1809-1810 by Ali Pasha, a strategic point to control all the caravan itineraries. The castle ruins were used later during the time of socialism for military issues.

You will stop for a picnic lunch just near the village of Erind. After around 4-5 hours of riding, you will reach Karjan village where a traditional dinner and accommodation will be hosted by a local family.

Day 3: Drino’s Valley - Cajupi Valley

After breakfast, you will ride down along Drino’s Valley first to Andon Poci village, later Hundkuq village and the ride will become challenging entering a small forest before reaching Labova of Zhapa. This village is well known all over the south for its wonderful church and the big houses belonging to the merchants which are now mostly ruined.

Labova is the birthplace of Vangjel Zhapa, the organizer of the first Modern Olympic Games. Zhapa was a well-known businessman and philanthropist who lived around 200 years ago. Labova will be your lunch picnic stop. After visiting the church, a very unique medieval building, you will start riding up the mountain. You will be impressed by the mountain’s rare vegetation such as mountain tea, oregano, wild rose and other endemic plants like digitalis or ‘Dig–Dag’ as it’s known locally.

You follow the mountain path to the valley of Cajupi where you stop by a cattle of 1,000 sheep. This place will be your camping place for the night. You will have the chance to taste the Brati famous spring water, a typical station of the old caravans and visit a small medieval tower of protection called “karakoll”. Riders can experience the sheep milking process and cooking with the shepherds.

Day 4: ‘Hija e Mallkuar’ or ‘The Cursed Shadow’ - Hoshteva village

After a nice traditional breakfast, the trail will follow the medieval Caravan pathway with its famous bandit hideout ‘Hija e Mallkuar’ or ‘The Cursed Shadow’. From there, medieval thieves could rob the caravans passing through Zagoria. You will continue riding to the most important horse pathway of the XVII and XVIII century which used to connect the biggest commercial centers in Southern Albania. A very beautiful natural monument is the Rock of Zhej that can be seen along the way.

You will stop for a short break at the water spring of Lliar, reconstructed by Ali Pasha in the early XIX century. You will take a challenging downhill route to the ruins of a medieval stone bridge (the bridge collapsed in February 2018) where you will stop for lunch and for a long refreshing swim in the river.

In the afternoon, you will climb Hoshteva village your destination for the night. In this village now live only 30 people. Hoshteva has a unique church that was initially built in 999 AC and last restored in 1866. The monument has a very particular style with lots of pagan elements on the wall paintings You will spend the night by a small family hotel, the only one in Hoshteva village. You are having home-cooked dinner in the family’s garden.

Day 5: Gjurmemushka mountain pass - Mbrezhdan

This day ride will start with mountain climbing to reach Gjurmemushka mountain pass and after that, you will ride mostly downhill. You will pass by Maleshova village to visit the church and by Limari antic castle ruins. You will stop for a picnic lunch next to a water stream and rest under the trees. River Vjosa view opens up to you from the top of the mountain along your afternoon ride.

You will spend the night in a village house in Mbrezhdan. This is a poor and forgotten area very isolated due to the lack of roads and immigration but still very welcoming. You can experience the traditional way of cooking outside and the famous “petanik” a special pie of the mountains. Mbrezhdan is a Raki area and very well known for their “spoon” deserts. You will have dinner with the host family in their garden.

Day 6: Vjosa River - Piskova

After breakfast, you will start the ride downhill to reach the river Vjosa. The rest of the ride for the day will take place on the right of the river bank. The landscape is amazing, very different from the other days with many chances for long gallops. You will camp again in front of Piskova village on the dry part of the river bed and enjoy very good food cooked by a small restaurant in Permet. The food will be transferred by car to the camping place. You can swim the whole afternoon and enjoy a special dinner under the stars.

Day 7: Permet

You start the ride from Piskova and keep following the right river bank. The riding landscape is mostly valley-hilly with many changes of gallops and canters. You will reach Permet town by lunchtime. After accommodating the horses in the suburb of this small town and moving to a hotel in the center of Permet, you will have lunch in a small restaurant close by. The afternoon is free to visit the town walk or climb the famous Premti rock.

Before the evening, you can visit by car Leusa village placed few kilometers away from the town. The beauty of the surrounding wood, hides the real gem of Leusa village: the Orthodox Church of St. Mary well-known for its outstanding iconography mural paintings from the Byzantine era. Dinner will take place in a family-run restaurant in the middle of the town. You can later enjoy the nightlife in different music bars in the town center.

Day 8: Free riding day

This is a free-riding day. Your guide suggests to drive you to Benja thermal waters in Langarica canyons 30 minutes away from Permet. There are chances of exploring the canyons, swimming, and the “most brave” can go river hiking to explore the “Pigeons Cave” on a rock along Langarica river. They have planned to have lunch in a restaurant close to the canyons and return back to Permeti town late in the afternoon.

Dinner will be served in a small restaurant close to the hotel. During this day is possible that you make your own resting plan if you don’t want to join this program.

Day 9: Permet town - Nderan / Zagoria

This is going to be one of the longest and most difficult days (around 5-6 hours of riding). Long sleeves because of branches are needed. The ride is mostly climbing Dhembel mountain. The view is amazing. Picnic lunch will be carried in the saddle. The car can’t reach you before the final destination during this day. You will meet logistics in Nderan Zagoria. Be prepared to walk part of the uphill and downhill.

During the afternoon ride, you will pass by the byzantine church and the monastery of Saint Mikhail of Nivan, built in 1702. You will ride over the medieval bridge built in the same period to connect the monastery with Nderan village, one of the famous centers of medieval livestock fairs and which will be your overnight residence.

You will spend the night with a Vllah family. Their community represents a rare linguistic minority in Albania. Dinner will be a delicious mixture of local products, raki, and wine. You can join the local life and accompany the family during the milking process, dinner preparation or have a look at the families, farm animals, and garden. This village is one of the most important producers of mountain honey in South Albania and it offers nearly 10 different tastes of honey as per season and bee pasture.

Day 10: Suha River - Libohova

This riding day combines the changing landscape and riding pace. Wide valleys, steep downhills, green forests and the beauty of Suha River are part of your itinerary before lunch. The lunch break by the river is a good chance of refreshing in the water. Later, you are climbing the Swallow Rock and visit the church of Labova of the Cross of the most important in the country.

The Church of Labova of the Cross is a rare monument representing the oldest church in Albania, built by Justinian the Great in 554. Justinian married Teodora his wife at the small chapel of this village and the villagers inherited her wedding dress for centuries. This church is decorated with an old wooden iconostasis full of floral and symbolic animal scenes.

Later in the afternoon, you will ride to Libohova, a small town nestled at the foot of the Bureto Mountain. The archaeological evidence indicates a very ancient settlement that reached its zenith in the 17th-century when it became an important commercial center. During the afternoon, it is possible to take a long walk and visit Libohova’s castle, a Bektashi cult object and to the tomb of Ali Pasha’s sister, Shanisha You will overnight in a local family house and will taste delicious local food.

Day 11: Antigonea National Park - Gjirokastra

This will be a short riding day of 3,5 hours. This morning you will ride through rolling hills, Drino’s valley and few water streams before climbing a steep hill to reach Antigonea National Park, where you will stop for a visit. Antigonea was built by King Pyrrhus in 295 BC and named after his first wife Antigona, daughter of King Ptolemaeus of Egypt.

After the break, you will ride one more hour to the stable where you can enjoy the experience of letting free your horses. A picnic lunch will follow in the village close to the stable. You will be accommodated at the same hotel in Gjirokastra. Your farewell dinner will take place in a small restaurant in the old Bazaar. Later in the evening, you can have a drink in a popular bar.

Day 12

After breakfast at the hotel, you will be transferred back to the airport of Tirana.

Location

Vjosa “the blue heart” of Europe along its entire course of over 270 kilometers is untamed, free-flowing and characterized by beautiful canyons, braided river sections, islands, oxbows, and meandering stretches. Vjosa River is one of the most complex habitats for spawning fish and migratory birds.

Food

All meals from the dinner of Day 1 till the breakfast of Day 12, as well as water and drinks during the meals, are included in the package. Most of the dishes are homemade while fruits, vegetables, and meat come from local gardens and farms.

The following meals are included:

  • Breakfast
  • Lunch
  • Dinner
  • Drinks

The following dietary requirement(s) are served and/or catered for:

  • Regular (typically includes meat and fish)
If you have special dietary requirements it's a good idea to communicate it to the organiser when making a reservation

What's included

  • 9 riding days
  • Service of an English-speaking guide
  • A second guide if there will be more than four riders
  • 11 nights accommodation
  • Daily full board meals from dinner of Day 1 to breakfast of Day 12
  • Water and drinks during the meals
  • Luggage transport by car from destination to destination

What's not included

  • Airfare
  • Airport transfers
  • Entrance tickets to monuments or parks
  • Lunch on Day 1
  • Extra drinks
  • Extra activities on Day 8
  • Other services or expenses during free time
  • Personal expenses

How to get there

Recommended Airports

Arrival by airplane

Please arrange your flight to arrive at Tirana International Airport Nënë Tereza (TIA) or Corfu International Airport (CFU). Roundtrip transfers from Tirana are not yet included but are available at an additional cost of 70 EUR per person. From Corfu International Airport (CFU), you may take a boat to Saranda Port, transfers from this airport are also not yet included. The cost from Saranda Port to Gjirokastra is 40 EUR (return) per person, the distance is 64 kilometers or 1 hour.

Caravan Horse Riding Albania organizes two transfers from Tirana International Airport Nënë Tereza (TIA) every Saturday, the first one at 12 p.m. and the second at 3 p.m. Flights that fit their normal transfer’s schedule should be planned to arrive no later than 3 p.m. and departures no earlier than 12 p.m. (midday).

Riders that arrive in Tirana one day in advance can plan to arrive at the airport for the transfer at 12 p.m. or 3 p.m. It is very easy and cheap to reach Tirana airport by bus. There is a bus every hour starting from the center of Tirana (behind the opera palace).

Private transfers from or to Tirana are also available at 150 EUR (one way). A maximum of three people can share this transfer if it is impossible to book flights that fit the normal transfer schedule.

Airport: Tirana International Airport Nënë Tereza Airport transfer available: Tirana International Airport Nënë Tereza (US$81 per person) Additional charges may apply. You can request this in the next step.

Cancellation Policy

  • A reservation requires a deposit of 20% of the total price.
  • The deposit is non-refundable, if the booking is cancelled.
  • The rest of the payment should be paid on arrival.
12 days / 11 nights
from --

Availability

Arrival: Wednesday October 7, 2020
Departure: Sunday October 18, 2020

Single supplement

No single rooms available (on some or all nights). Riders must be prepared to share with someone of the same sex. If available, 16 EUR per night is applicable on Night 1 and 7, payable on-site.

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